Matthew Fuller on Mon, 27 Sep 1999 19:14:05 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Linker


Matthew Fuller

(A new piece of software has just been put online by Mongrel at

The Linker software comes out of a specific need.  A key part of what
Mongrel does are workshops, dialogues to produce fast artefacts of digital
culture with other mongrels.  A crucial thing about these workshops is
that people want to produce something that looks good, and means
something, but don't want to have to invest months in teaching themselves
up to know something like Photoshop and Director.  We don't particularly
want to knock these programs, but they're cultured up to be useful really
only to experts. 

	The way the workshops run is based around the structure of the
Linker.  There's one or more computers running the program and ways of
getting material into it.  A video camera and some cheap digital cameras
to produce the still or moving images.  Sound comes in from off of the
video or straight into the computer's mic.  A simple sound editor program
can be used to edit and add effects.  The text is banged out directly on
the machine. Other stuff can come off the net, CDs, wherever.  It's quick. 

Link to:

We work with people who others cannot reach. Our own people.  Until we
made the Linker software there was a huge technical barrier.  We would get
people excited and then they would get hit with all the technical details. 
Linker makes all that simple and lets people get on with exploring ideas." 
Mervin Jarman

	What Linker does is essentially what Director (pretty much the
standard multimedia authoring tool) the program whose internal language,
Lingo, it is written in does already, but in a more restricted set of
ways.  Director is built to process any form of data type and provide a
way of working them together, usually by relatively complicated
programming.  Many multimedia programs make giant baroque concatenations. 
Linker by comparison is a very slight offering.  Basically an opened up
versioning of an editing tool that has been used to make a number of CD
ROM based artworks, (such as 'Rehearsal of Memory') it is deliberately
constrained.  The constraint is what makes it quick.  It is also what
pulls things together formally. 

	Linker is the multimedia equivalent of a throw-away camera.  Other
culture technologies it relates to: a page on a photo album; print club; 
advent calendar; photo frames for several pictures of family members. 
Your Granny might have a dinky set of display shelves full of glass
animals, dreck from the Franklin Mint and souvenirs.  You can do the same
thing on a computer, but make it modernlike and multimedia.  On the other
hand, you can make something tight, vicious and full of a whole load of
other kinds of memories or new sensations.  Kids setting out collections
of stones or little soldiers on a table are at the same time attentive to
their aesthetic detail, how realistic, how variable the faces, as to how
great their ability to inflict real or ideas of damage. 

	The software feeds into the natural delight that people take in
analytical sorting or in extrapolating from imagined or actual patterns. 
The eye-hand strays and picks at this and that, producing connotations of
meaning by the simple fact of linkage, of little tokens, tenderness, tat. 
Whilst Linker aligns itself with the delights of opening, of skimming
over, and of fiddling it also presupposes a sense of montage which, like
fiddling, goes nowhere in particular.  *It is a machine for producing a
form of montage which is more like a game of dominoes than a dialectic. 
That whilst it does not assign the particular to nowhere, in providing a
device for its extrapolation, is not also dependent on cell a clashing
with cell b to progress to cell c. 

*link to 
Linker allows for one Linker map to be linked to another.  A
structure that in itself is fairly limited, particularly in size, becomes
with the possibility of reiteration a far more powerful means of linkage. 
Collections become collectivities. 

This is not to say that Linker could not be used as a space for the
operation of such procedures.  Perhaps we even remain in hope that things
could be that algorithmically simple.  The software even explicitly
provides a domain in which such devices, such rule-fantasies can be played
out without harming the public.  Constraints, of formal rules, of
available materials, of rhyme and metre, of rythms are familiar tools for
meanings to trick themselves into being made.  Adoption of a constraint
paradoxically allows creation to become a process.  There is a sense in
which software, something which is often said to be 'open', can produce
similar effects. 

Software constructs a sensorium: a set of ways of sensing, knowing and
doing in the world.  A few examples:  command line interfaces such as UNIX
transposing the 'memory' of the operating system onto the user, what
elements of HTML documents are deemed to be important for crawlers; how
search engines incorporate semantic judgements; the spatialisation of
memory relied upon and reinforced by the WIMP (Windows, Icon, Mouse,
Pointer) genera of interfaces; the inclusion of unique machine identifiers
within the Pentium III chip, and the wider questions of value-production
in information economies commonly, but in some ways less than usefully,
grouped under the heading of 'privacy' that go with it; and so on. 

link to:

"Just look at how Microsoft Word forces certain restrictions on how you
spell - even underlining in green or red like some teacher." Harwood

It is utterly lame to suggest, as David Gellernter, a Professor of
Computer Science, does in his extended homily 'The Aesthetics of
Computing',1 that software as a science is not formulated by currents
other than 'itself'.  There is a twin movement.  Involving scientific,
that is to say rational, methods in wider fields that may be political,
social, conceptual, aesthetic.  At the same time, teasing out those ways
in which the internal configurations of practiced rationalities (such as
software production)  already operate within and produce these domains of
influence.  They present a possibility for actually enriching rationality
and making it, as a particular kind of knowledge machine, more productive. 

Software that is not socially constructed, not only gets no users (for it
does not hook into or effect any of the involvements they might have for
it), but even as an 'orphan', something that has no preconditions,
something that is solely of itself, it is formed, as an impossible object,
at least in part as a negative imprint of what is already in existence. 
The point is not whether software is socially constructed or not, or put
the other way, whether rationality has its uses.  This is a minor
argument.  Rather, what kind of currents, what kind of machine, numerical,
social and other dynamics it feeds in and out of, and what others can be
brought into being?  This is not just a question of, 'putting software at
the service of the community' or some other farce of repurposing but of
developing modes of study, innovation, production and use that acknowledge
that, "To be 'technical' simply is to be a response to a history of


Each of the nine image cells that form the map are split into a further 16
'hot areas'.  Each of these has a further eight possibilities of actions: 
sound; map; scale; text; video; jump; image; chat. The maths can be
expressed as follows: 9 x 16 x 8 = 1152 possibilities for each map.  A
graphical representation of Linker's basic algorithm is pasted on the
front of the piece as the software starts up.  This map of linkage forms a
direct symmetry between the interface and the algorithms working below.
The lines then shift, according to how the data in that particular Linker
sorts itself.  This allows the user to gain a graphical representation of
the links between the elements they have placed in their Linker. The
interface is constructed to represent the code and the limited
possibilities of its use, nothing more.  This goes against the grain of
much proprietary software which attempts to acheive the most narrow kind
of practicality, "There's a job to do.  Let's just get it done.  Don't
think about what it means."* at the same time as subsuming every possible
function or way of treating data within it. 

slogan - "Death to screen junk"

*Link to:

We are transfixed by the outcome of our interaction with applications. We
forget the program in order to get on with the task.  If we can reach
clarity about what software does, how it offers us a limited range of
objects as a menu of 'creativity' or of process, we can begin to see what
is missing. 

There are three by three cells in the first layer of the interface.  From
the Three Little Pigs to the Holy Trinity, three has an interesting
position, always beyond duality - here on in things get complex it
promises.  The third in a series always suggests the onset of a series,
elaborating a something between the preceding numbers causing things to
move on - a factorial, a function, a game.  Constraining the number of
image cells in the Linker allows it to be filled fast at a basic level. 
It also forces users to make choices, to discriminate about the use of a
particular graphic in relationship to the others within the fixed number
of cells available.  Formalism becomes a machine for affect. 

Adding sounds, images, words and video together in a pattern for the first
time is really quite a powerful experience for many people. Importantly
also, viewing a Linker with elements made by or about them, their peoples,
creates a very intimate relation with the process of using and viewing. 
This might have something to do with being able to create a cluster of
media with strong presentational authority in terms of coherence of design
and function.  Alternately, for instance, when used as a kind of miniature
family album with sound recordings, photos and so on it might also have
something to do with the sense of openess inherent in the formal system of
the database. 

Formal constraints repress what is underneath them at the same time as
allowing their articulation in certain ways.  A little thing such as this,
the software, whilst it includes constraints, does not allow access to the
Law or a state of numbered grace.  Nor does a 'full' Linker map form a
final will and testament, a chance to speak that will only be given the
once.  Instead, a spread palm-load of sleights of mind that people can
play upon themselves, upon memory. 

Lev Manovich, in his useful essay on the 'Database as a Symbolic Form'3,
suggests that what is often found in actual usage of databases is that
what has been assembled is, "A collection, not a story".  In Linker,
forcing a limited number, but no more, of image cells to be filled before
the thing can be used encourages a certain amount of syntagmatic relations
between data elements in the constellation of many which the database is
composed of.  As Manovich suggests, this can be like putting together a
sentence in a natural language.  It also suggests what he calls the
conflict between database and narrative, between more or less open arrays
of elements, paths and strata and the timelapsed results of particular
routes through them congealed as a story. 

Another difference between narrative and database is between signs, the
base constituent element of narrative, and the digitised elements, cast
members, sprites, objects, whatever that are actuated in a database. 
Whilst this is a difference of degree and not of exclusivity, simple
material factors such as the amount of processor cycles needed to call up
an element also have their effect in terms of composition.  Linker makes
use of a material factor like this in a determining way in that each cell
changes size according to the dimensions of the image file.  Thus, it
allows the overall visual pattern of the first layer of the database to
emerge as a result of the properties of its constituent elements.  This is
a small thing, but in the unusual context of artists producing a system
rather than its content, one that presents processed documents rather than
perhaps open up the process of their construction, the interface is
essentially all there is.  It has to be thought, and sensed, through. 

1  David Gellernter, 'The Aesthetics of Computing', Weidenfeld & Nicholson,
London 1998  (Incongruously, this does not prevent him from suggesting
canonical literature and art history courses for computer scientists, just
that the 'beauty' that these disciplines might provide access to be as
inviolable to questioning and reinvention as the technocratic
instrumentalism he calls into question as the dominant ideology of computer
2  J. Rouse, 'The Narrative Reconstruction of Science', INQUIRY, Vol 33 No
1, pp 179 - 196
3  Lev Manovich, 'Database as Symbolic Form', available at:
http:///  (Search within this archive).

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